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  1. #1

    Irish Champion Stakes

    gary o brien ..

    The big day of Leopardstown’s flat calendar is finally upon us, and happily the weather has come right for the 2012 Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes day at the County Dublin track.

    Quality rather than quantity is once again the order of the day for the €750,000 Group 1 feature event over 1m2f at 5.45, as proven older top level performers Nathaniel, St Nicholas Abbey and Snow Fairy go head to head, with the classic generation represented by the enigmatic Born To Sea, Daddy Long Legs and Light Heavy.

    It’s a potentially explosive clash, with John Gosden’s Eclipse hero probably the one to beat following his agonising last-gasp defeat to Danedream when bidding for a second King George, but marginal preference goes to Ed Dunlop’s globe-trotting filly as she bids to atone for a similarly close reverse against So You Think 12 months ago. The five year-old looked as good as ever on her return from a tedon injury when capturing the Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville last month, and provided today’s assignment doesn’t come too soon everything looks in place for another bold bid under supersub Frankie Dettori.

    The Matron Stakes is the day’s other Group 1 contest, and despite a costly defeat at Royal Ascot that remains difficult to explain Emulous is sure to be strongly fancied to land the 1m contest for the second year in a row. Reportedly working like her old self again at home, Dermot Weld’s daughter of Dansili is likely to prove very hard to beat if she is indeed back to her best but perhaps the immensely likeable Duntle can improve past her. Successful in three of her four starts this term (and probably unlucky on the other occasion), Wayne Lordan’s mount has everything in her favour on her first attempt in this class and did particularly well to overcome unsuitably testing conditions when scoring here last time.

    Whatever the fate of Emulous, it should prove a rewarding afternoon for Pat Smullen as he continues his quest for another jockeys championship, with Big Break looking to have solid prospects of getting him off to a flying start in the opening juvenile fillies maiden. The full-sister to Famous Name was clearly undone by her inexperience on her debut at the Galway Festival but with the benefit of that outing behind her she can be expected to take advantage of the plum draw today. Thunder Mountain, who left an inauspicious introduction behind him when romping home at Ballybrit, can keep up the good work for the Weld/Smullen alliance by seeing off Ballydoyle hope Battle Of Marengo in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf Trial which follows, but British raider Primevere may surprise their hotpot Speaking Of Which in the Group 3 Kilternan Stakes.

    3.40 Big Break (11-8, general)
    4.10 Thunder Mountain (9-2, Boylesports)
    4.40 Duntle (4-1, general)
    5.10 Primevere (4-1, Boylesports)
    5.45 Snow Fairy (2-1, sportingbet, William Hill)
    6.20 Seanie (12-1, Boylesports, BetVictor, Stan James, Ladbrokes)
    6.50 Royal Approach (9-2, Boylesports, BetVictor)
    7.20 Certerach (14-1, Boylesports)

  2. #2

    trange to relate, the shifts in the balance of power in Saturday’s Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes down through the years have not been wholly dissimilar to the shifts in the balance of power in European rugby.

    Bizarre? Sure is. Ireland dominated the Five Nations in the early 1980s, winning or sharing the championship in three of the four years from 1982 to 1985, just as Vincent O’Brien dominated the Irish Champion Stakes. Also, the first French winner of the Irish Champion Stakes arrived in the form of Triptych in 1987, a Grand Slam-winning year for France.

    Not only that, but European rugby of the 1990s and early 2000s belonged to England, seven championships, including four Grand Slams and a Triple Crown, in 13 years, with English-trained horses winner 12 Irish Champion Stakes in 16 around that time. And to put the icing on top of the analogy, stretching it just about as far as it will go, English clubs won five of the seven Heineken Cups between 1997 and 2004.

    Remarkably, Irish-trained horses have won the last nine renewals of the Irish Champion Stakes. Okay, so there was just one Irish victory in the Six Nations Championship in that time, which put the entire parallel in jeopardy and almost had me scurrying off to investigate the exact timing of this new-found relative strength in Irish cricket, but it was 2009, a Grand Slam-winning one, and Irish teams have won five of the last seven Heineken Cups. (That counts, right?)

    Bad news. The Irish domination could be at an end this year. Not because Munster are not the force of old or because Leinster will be hard pushed to land a hat-trick of Heineken Cups, but because Nathaniel and Snow Fairy are in town this weekend.

    John Gosden says that Nathaniel isn’t just cherry ripe for Saturday, that the race should put him spot on for the Arc, but I wouldn’t be going worrying too much about that if you are a Nathaniel fan. Not that you shouldn’t believe Gosden, but you can be sure that he wouldn’t be taking his horse over to Ireland for a Group 1 race if he wasn’t Group 1 race fit. Perhaps the race will just put the final gloss on him for Paris, but Gosden has had four and a half winners from his last five runners in Group 1 races in Ireland, so you can be confident that Nathaniel will be as close as close can be to that afore-mentioned cherry ripeness.

    That said, it is difficult to figure out why the Eclipse winner is a shorter price than Snow Fairy. Ed Dunlop’s filly is top class, and she is probably at her best over 10 furlongs on fast ground, which she should have on Saturday. She put up one of the best performances of her career when she got to within a neck of So You Think in last year’s renewal of the race, obviously over Saturday’s course and distance, and she proved that she was as good as ever on her seasonal debut this term when she won the Group 1 Prix Jean Romanet, beating some of the top race-fit middle-distance fillies in Europe. Furthermore, the only time she has met Nathaniel to date, in last year’s Champion Stakes, she finished two lengths in front of him, and she meets him on 5lb better terms on Saturday.

    The raiders won’t have it all their own way, mind you, with St Nicholas Abbey and Born To Sea heading the home defence, and representing the two trainers who are responsible for eight of the last nine winners of the race.

    It’s a cracker. Please stand for Ireland’s Call.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Lester's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    What a great mare she is ...

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